xXx 2: The Next Level Review

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by Casimir Harlow Jul 1, 2005 at 12:00 AM

    xXx 2: The Next Level Review
    Ice Cube. One of the founding members of NWA, a seminal rap group who paved the way for many of the great bands in that area of the music industry. Star of excellent movies like the Spike Lee gang drama, Boyz in the Hood and the George Clooney military drama Three Kings. Also star of some seriously average films like Are We There Yet, Ghosts of Mars and Torque – films where there may be some enjoyment factor but there certainly is no room for him to show his acting talents. If you’ve been unlucky enough to only see his lesser efforts and haven’t warmed to his excellent but profanity-littered music then you would be forgiven for thinking that he was just a one-trick pony. Perpetually angry, constantly growling and shouting, offering little more than aggressive behaviour and abuse in the guise of ‘acting’ in those films, he has been stereotyped into a corner. So when I heard that he was doing XXX2, taking over where Vin Diesel left off in the first one, I rolled my eyes indifferently. The original was not even worth a sequel – foolishly mocking its Bond-esque origins whilst at the same time remaining inferior to the unflappable super spy series – and when Diesel dropped out, I thought they should have folded the project. Replacing Diesel with Cube can only be regarded as a step down in terms of action star because, whilst Cube might have had a couple of starry moments, he has never been an all-out action man. The question is – can he surprise me? Is XXX2 going to meet – or beat – my already low expectations for it? Read on to find out.

    Just to recap, XXX saw Vin Diesel’s rebel thrills junkie being recruited by Samuel L. Jackson’s NSA Agent Augustus Gibbons to work as a spy. After a massively successfully ‘saving the world’ operation (in XXX), he loses his prized agent and decides, given the success of the first recruitment, he should give it another shot. Of course, necessity is the prevailing incentive, as the world is once again under threat from terrorists who have this time attacked Gibbon’s NSA headquarters. Enter Darius Stone, another rebel without a clue, who is first seen breaking out of a maximum security prison after getting a visit from his old Captain, Gibbons. Angry and violent, he is also ingenious with his improvisation skills and resoundingly determined – seemingly the ideal candidate for Gibbons to recruit, a situation made much easier by their past history together. (It is also marginally more believable for them to have picked an ex-Navy Seal rather than Vin Diesel’s dumb action-junkie in the original). Pretty soon Stone finds himself in a whole world of trouble as Willem Dafoe’s splinter cell corrupt Government operatives try to take over the Capital.

    Well it seems that low expectations actually work sometimes because I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. Sure it’s a popcorn action-fest with a stupid plot and a pretty clichéd script but it was still great fun, in much the same way as Bad Boys 2 or Mi:2. Lee Tamahori, who directed the moving Once Were Warriors and then nearly destroyed the Bond franchise with excess gimmickry (invisible cars) and lame-ass villainy (power-suit man) in Die Another Day has found a perfect outlet for his action extremes. Where DAD started promisingly but denigrated into tedious drivel, XXX2 uses the same excess to start loudly and just get bigger and better as it goes along. He makes it easy for the viewer to excuse all of the ludicrous plot-holes and one-dimensional acting in favour of just sitting back and having fun, spending less time mocking Bond (as the first movie did) and more time blowing stuff up. Ironically, in doing so, he has managed to fashion a movie which is everything that XXX should have been and which actually goes some way towards justifying a further continuation of the series.

    If I was surprised by how much fun the movie was, then I was equally taken aback by Ice Cube’s action abilities. Sure he’s not as keen as Vin Diesel to show off his physique but he still manages to be thoroughly convincing in his action guise, opening up a big can of whoop-ass on anybody who dares to cross him and being particularly fond of vicious elbow strikes. It may not be a role which stretches his acting skills particularly, but it is still nice to see him fit into a decent all-out actioner. Of course, however well chosen he was, he would be lost without the supporting cast who do a tremendous job of holding the whole thing together. Samuel L. Jackson was one of the better things about the original and his reprisal of the Agent Gibbons role here is a welcome decision, as is the extension of his part to include more action than you would perhaps expect from him. Jackson brings gravitas to pretty-much everything he does but it is clear, especially after his Emperor-smashing turn in Episode III, that he can capably handle action as much as drama.

    We also get further solid support from Underworld’s Scott Speedman and some random sex appeal in the form of Sunny Maybrey from Species 3 (although why either of them are on the front cover instead of Jackson or Dafoe remains a mystery to me as they have much less important parts and are much less well-known). The next really clever decision, however, was to pick Willem Dafoe to play the bad guy. Dafoe has had a polygraph-style career of highs and lows, with classics like The Last Temptation of Christ and Platoon under his belt alongside, more recently, clichéd bad-guy roles in dire sequels like Speed 2: Cruise Control. This part could have so easily fallen into the latter category but instead he is perfectly suited to the disgruntled ex-military psychopath, hamming it up just the right amount for this kind of movie. On the whole it is a noisy in-your-face action movie, with some explosive set-pieces, tremendous stunts and deafening gunplay. Sure it’s not going to win any awards but – in much the same way as the brainless but fun looking actioner Stealth seems likely to do for Jamie Foxx – it showcases a new side to Ice Cube as a credible action hero. Who knows, maybe we might even see him return in another XXX instalment… Though I never thought I would say it, I am quite looking forward to that possibility.

    The Rundown


    4
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10
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